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Signatures submitted for congressional age limits ballot measure in North Dakota

By: - February 11, 2024 1:40 pm

Jared Hendrix and Scott Tillman haul boxes full of signed petitions for a ballot measure to establish an age limit for North Dakota congressional delegates into the Capitol on Feb. 9, 2024. The measure, if passed by voters, would make it so no North Dakotan could be elected to Congress if they will reach their 81st birthday by the end of their term. (Mary Steurer/North Dakota Monitor)

Organizers behind a petition to establish an age limit for North Dakota’s congressional delegates submitted thousands of signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office on Friday, narrowly clearing the Feb. 12 filing deadline to have the measure on the primary election ballot in June.

The measure, if passed by voters, would create a constitutional amendment prohibiting North Dakotans from being elected or appointed to Congress if they would reach their 81st birthday before the end of their term.

The Secretary of State’s Office has 35 calendar days to process the filing. It’ll take roughly 31,000 valid signatures from North Dakota voters in order for the amendment to be on the ballot.

Jared Hendrix, leading the charge for the proposal, said his group collected nearly 42,000 signatures in all. Hendrix, chair of Retire Congress North Dakota, said six or seven months of work went into gathering the petitions.

Hendrix and other boosters of the proposed amendment say the cap is necessary in order to make sure members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation are fit for the job. He said national polls indicate broad support for congressional age limits, and so he’s confident the measure would be approved at the polls.

Why set the cutoff at 81? “We just decided talking about it, thinking about it, that 81 was a good number where there’s virtually no opposition at that point,” said Hendrix.

Hendrix and two representatives from U.S. Term Limits, a 501(c)(4) organization that advocates for term limits for all elected officials, drove from Fargo to haul three boxes’ worth of petitions to the Capitol Friday morning.

If approved by voters, North Dakota would be the first state in the nation with such a law.

There’s reason to believe, however, that an age limit for congressional delegates could be challenged in court as unconstitutional.

“My understanding is that qualifications for serving in Congress are set in the United States Constitution, and so to change those qualifications, the U.S. Constitution would have to be changed,” said North Dakota Secretary of State Michael Howe. However, it’s not the job of the Secretary of State’s Office to assess the legality of ballot measures, he added.

“If this group wants to pose that question to the North Dakota voters, they have every right to do that,” Howe said.

Hendrix is already involved in a lawsuit with the state. Last year, he joined political advocacy groups and a petition company to sue North Dakota over a provision in the state constitution that prohibits out-of-state residents from circulating petitions for voter-initiated ballot measures. The case is scheduled to go to trial in 2025.

Hendrix was also behind a ballot measure approved by voters in 2022 setting term limits for the governor and state lawmakers.

This article first appeared in the North Dakota Monitor, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom network.

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Mary Steurer
Mary Steurer

Mary Steurer is a reporter based in Bismarck, North Dakota. A native of St. Louis, Steurer most recently worked as the local government reporter for the Casper Star-Tribune newspaper in Wyoming.

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